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Don’t Always Believe What Your Kids Tell You When it Comes to Custody

Kids always want to please both of their parents, and this is never truer when it comes to divorce. Often, when a child is with his mother, he will tell her, “I want to live with you.” Then when he is with his dad, he will say the same thing.

Why Children Are Sympathetic During Child Custody Battles

A common aspect of divorce and child custody battles that many parents are not aware of is just how their child (or children) sympathize with their parents throughout the process. Kids are known for wanting to please both of their parents, and this is highly evident when it comes to divorce. Often, when a child is with their mother, they will tell her, “I want to live with you.” Then when they are with their dad, they will say the same thing. Unfortunately, when this happens, it gets in the way of working through the child custody issues related to the divorce in a healthy way.

Divorce is a challenging time for everyone involved, and it can be especially difficult for children who often do not fully understand what’s happening or why it’s happening. While children can be extremely adaptable to difficult and changing situations, this is also a formative time in their life, a time that shapes them into the adults they become. It is important for parents to understand how their children are feeling so they can make informed decisions that prioritize their child’s well-being and effectively support their child’s needs.

There are legal standards for determining custody in the state of Colorado, and the role of a child often includes attorneys, psychologists and mediators in divorce cases. In more extreme cases, a Child and Family Investigator may be appointed by a judge to determine a solid outcome. The attorneys at Colorado Legal Group have provided practical advice for parents navigating this difficult journey below.

What Does a Child’s Sympathy Look Like in a Custody Battle? 

Children naturally want to make both of their parents happy, and this desire becomes particularly pronounced during a divorce. Kids often find themselves caught in the middle, trying to navigate the complex emotions and expectations of both of their parents–and that’s not an easy place to be. It can quickly lead to people-pleasing behaviors that don’t reflect the child’s actual feelings.

For example, let’s use a ten-year-old boy named Alex. When he is with his mother, he tells her how much he enjoys spending time at her house and that he wants to live with her full time. His mother feels reassured, and she starts to believe that primary custody should be hers. However, when Alex spends the weekend with his father, he tells him exactly the same thing—how much he loves being with him and that he wants to live with him full time. 

Both parents, hearing these affirmations from their child, become more entrenched in their positions, convinced that Alex prefers their home over the other parent’s home. While the child’s behavior here is completely natural and well-intentioned, the situation can lead to confusion and conflict that can further complicate the custody negotiations.

Choosing the Custodial Parent & Diving Deeper with Child Psychology

Sometimes it is obvious who the custodial parent will be. Maybe one parent has been more involved in the child’s life from the beginning, or maybe one parent travels a lot and doesn’t have as much time for the child as the other spouse does. In divorce cases filed in Denver (and throughout Colorado) the legal standard for determining child custody (if the case goes to trial) will be the “best interests of the child.”

If the ideal situation is not obvious to you and your spouse, or if you do not agree on how to handle custody, consider hiring a local child psychologist. He or she can talk with the child and determine what the best arrangement will be, based on the situation and on the child’s age and developmental needs. 

There are many possible outcomes in child custody. A psychologist may determine that it would be beneficial for your child to live with the parent of the same sex or that a 50/50 child custody arrangement is not advisable, or something else entirely. While Colorado courts don’t require child psychologist mediation, it is an excellent idea if you are concerned about your children getting through the divorce in good mental health.

Many times, people who are involved in divorce cases look to their attorneys for advice. But even if your attorney is a parent, he or she does not always know what is best for your children. In the long run, working with a trained specialist will allow you and your spouse to do what is best for your child.

11 Events That Impact Child Custody Hearings

In Denver and throughout Colorado, the legal standard for determining child custody is the “best interests of the child.” This standard considers various factors, including the child’s physical, emotional, and psychological needs, as well as each parent’s ability to meet those needs. The court evaluates who has been more involved in the child’s upbringing, who can provide a more stable environment, and the child’s own wishes, among other considerations.

However, many cases are not so cut and dry. There are many things that can deeply affect the outcome of your child custody hearing. If the hearing doesn’t come out in your favor, this can lead to feelings of resentment and mistrust that only make a difficult situation worse.

It’s important to understand what those events are and how Colorado courts view them:

1. Drug and Alcohol Abuse

  • Substance Abuse: Evidence of drug or alcohol abuse can significantly hinder a parent’s chances of obtaining custody. Courts prioritize the safety and well-being of the child, and substance abuse raises serious concerns about a parent’s ability to provide a safe environment.
  • Rehabilitation Efforts: Conversely, evidence of successful rehabilitation and ongoing sobriety efforts (e.g., participation in support groups or counseling) can positively influence a custody decision.

2. Time and Availability

  • Work Commitments: Excessive work hours or a demanding job that limits a parent’s availability can be detrimental. Courts look for a parent who can provide consistent care and attention to the child.
  • Flexibility: A parent with a flexible work schedule or the ability to be present for the child’s daily needs (e.g., school activities, medical appointments) is often favored.

3. Living Conditions

  • Housing Stability: A stable, safe, and appropriate living environment is crucial. Courts evaluate the child’s living conditions, including space, cleanliness, and safety.
  • Proximity to School and Community: Living in a location that is convenient for the child’s schooling, extracurricular activities, and social life can be advantageous.

4. Parental Behavior and Conduct

  • Criminal Record: A history of criminal activity, particularly violent or abusive behavior, can negatively affect custody chances.
  • Mental Health: Mental health issues can also be a factor, especially if untreated. However, a parent actively managing their mental health with treatment and therapy can still be considered for custody.

5. Parental Involvement

  • Engagement with Child: Demonstrated involvement in the child’s life, such as attending parent-teacher meetings, medical appointments, and extracurricular activities, is critical.
  • Relationship Quality: The strength and quality of the parent-child relationship are closely examined. Courts often look for evidence of a strong, loving bond.

6. Co-Parenting Skills

  • Cooperation with Ex-Spouse: The ability to cooperate and communicate effectively with the other parent is important. Courts favor arrangements where both parents can work together for the child’s best interests.
  • Conflict Levels: High levels of conflict between parents, especially if one parent is the source, can be detrimental. Courts seek to minimize the child’s exposure to parental conflict.

7. Child’s Preference

  • Age and Maturity: Depending on the child’s age and maturity, their preference can be considered. Older children’s opinions may carry more weight, provided they are deemed mature enough to make an informed choice.

8. Domestic Violence

  • History of Abuse: Any history of domestic violence or abuse is taken very seriously. Evidence of such behavior can severely impact a parent’s chances of obtaining custody.
  • Protective Measures: The court may consider any protective measures in place, such as restraining orders or supervised visitation.

9. Financial Stability

  • Ability to Provide: Financial stability and the ability to provide for the child’s basic needs (food, shelter, education, medical care) are important. However, financial issues alone are not usually decisive if the child’s other needs are being met.

10. Custody Arrangements

  • Existing Arrangements: Courts may also consider any existing informal custody arrangements and how well they have been working.

11. Expert Testimonies

  • Professional Evaluations: Testimonies from child psychologists, social workers, or other professionals can influence custody decisions, especially if they provide insights into the child’s best interests and the parent’s ability to meet them.

Ultimately, courts aim to decide based on the best interests of the child, considering all these factors holistically.

The Role of Child Psychologists

While attorneys play a crucial role in divorce proceedings, they are not always equipped to address the psychological needs of children. Legal training does not encompass the intricacies of child development and emotional health, which are critical factors in determining the best custody arrangements. Therefore, it’s important to seek specialized advice from child psychologists who can provide insights into what is best for the children involved.

When the ideal custody arrangement is not obvious, or if parents disagree on how to handle custody, a child psychologist can provide an unbiased assessment of the child’s needs and recommend the best custody arrangement based on the child’s age, developmental stage, and individual circumstances. 

Working with a trained specialist allows you and your spouse to make decisions that are genuinely in the best interests of your child. A child psychologist can help you understand your child’s needs and how to meet them during and after the divorce. This specialized support can be instrumental in developing a custody plan that promotes your child’s well-being and reduces the emotional toll of the divorce.

Your cooperation as a parent has a direct impact on the outcome of your child custody hearing. It’s important to be realistic based on the current situation. Modifications can always be made in the future if and when necessary. 

Best Practices for Parents in Custody Battles 

Navigating a custody battle requires careful consideration of your child’s emotions and needs. While divorce is rarely easy when there are children involved, following these best practices can help make the process as smooth and beneficial for your child as possible.

1. Prioritize Your Child’s Well-Being

Always keep your child’s best interests in your decision making. Avoid making custody decisions based on personal grievances or a desire to “win” the custody battle. Instead, focus on what will provide the most stable, supportive, and loving environment for your child. That’s the best outcome you can hope for in a custody case. 

2. Encourage Open and Honest Communication

Children need to feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings openly and without judgment. Encourage your child to express their feelings and thoughts, and consider how you respond to them when they tell you something you might not want to hear. Be sure to let your child know that it’s okay to love both parents and that their feelings are valid. Reassure them that they do not have to choose sides and that both parents will continue to love and support them. 

3. Be Aware of Your Child’s Desire to Please

Understand that your child might say what they think you want to hear to avoid hurting your feelings (and that they might also be doing this to spare the feelings of their other parent as well).  Be mindful of this and avoid putting the child in situations where they feel pressured to choose between parents. Instead, focus on reassuring your child that their happiness and wellbeing are your top priorities.

4. Seek Professional Guidance and Support 

Don’t go it alone! There are many professionals trained to handle exactly these situations and that can help you make the right decisions to protect your child’s wellbeing. Engaging with child psychologists, counselors, and other professionals can provide valuable insights into your child’s needs. These experts can help you develop a custody plan that is in the best interests of your child and supports their emotional and psychological health for the long term. 

Hiring a Colorado Child Custody Attorney

Navigating child custody during a divorce can be a frustrating and complicated process, especially when kids are trying to please both parents. It’s important to understand how sympathy for both parents can manifest in children and take steps to create an environment where children feel safe enough to communicate openly and honestly. With the help of professional guidance, you can make choices that are truly in your child’s best interests, ensuring they come out of the divorce emotionally and psychologically healthy.

If you’re worried about handling child custody, give us a call for a consultation. We offer personalized legal advice and can connect you with child psychologists and other experts to guide you through this challenging time. Schedule an appointment today to discuss your case and make sure your decisions support your child’s well-being.

Submit a free case evaluation form or call 720.594.7360 to get started now.